SHOGUN LEAVES NOTHING TO CHANCE
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua admitted that he needed to be more aggressive if he wanted to avoid facing the uncertainty of a judges’ decision the second time around against Lyoto Machida, who decisioned him when the pair fought on October 24, 2009.
The former PRIDE Grand Prix champion finally showed up with the trademark aggressiveness that made him a superstar in the Land of the Rising Sun, and by forcing Machida into a furious exchange, he exposed the champion a bit. Machida is a guy who can counter with the best of them, but he has a tendency to bring his hands back low, which leaves him open to return fire. That is precisely what happened on Saturday night. Rua initiated the action with a kick that Machida tried to counter. He unfortunately countered with his hands low and that allowed Shogun to land a big right hand on the temple that dropped Machida to the canvas.
Shogun’s win erased any doubt as to who is the rightful champion. The question now turns to what kind of champion Shogun will turn out to be?
Of the nine previous men who have held the UFC 205-lb title, only three successfully defended it more than once (Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell and Frank Shamrock). Two successfully defended it only once (Rampage Jackson and Machida). The other four (Randy Couture, Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans) lost the first time they entered the Octagon as champion.
The question of whether he will embark on a long reign of terror starts with who he faces during his first defense. A rubber match with Machida doesn’t make much sense after big knockout. Thus, the winner of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson versus Rashad Evans appears to be the most likely scenario. A rematch with Forrest Griffin, who defeated Shogun in his UFC debut, would also be an interesting bout. Anderson Silva moving up in weight to challenge for a second title would also be a blockbuster.
Whoever he fights, Shogun should remain aggressive and look to finish fights with his controlled berserker style. If he does that, he will continue to be a tough task for anyone in the division.
HOW WILL MACHIDA RESPOND TO THE LOSS?
It is always tough for a fighter to experience his first loss. That difficulty is often compounded when the first loss is by knockout, because it tends to have a bigger impact on a guy’s psyche. For the next fight or two, many first-time knockout victims have a tendency to wonder whether they can take a solid punch, which leads to hesitancy inside the Octagon and that is a recipe for disaster.
Rashad Evans is the only other UFC light heavyweight champion who experienced his first professional loss during his championship reign, and he just happened to lose by knockout. So, there are a lot of parallels to Machida’s current situation.
Evans returned to the Octagon approximately six months later to face a savage striker in Thiago Silva. Evans, who had largely been a standup fighter in his three previous bouts, relied almost exclusively on takedowns and ground control against Silva. Only Evans and his team know whether that game plan was the result of confidence issues or him merely executing a smart, effective game plan against a guy who most felt had superior standup skills. Either way, he won the fight.
There is no other undefeated UFC champion who suffered his first loss by knockout, so we cannot do an apples-to-apples comparison with anyone else. Yet, there are a few analogous situations that provide interesting data.
Mark Coleman was undefeated when he won the UFC Heavyweight Championship back in 1997. He lost his next bout by decision to Maurice Smith, and although he didn’t suffer a knockout, Coleman took a beating in that fight. He also lost his next three fights.
Chuck Liddell had one professional loss when Randy Couture stopped him with strikes from the mount in their 2003 battle. Liddell appeared unfazed by the loss, winning eight of his next nine bouts, all by knockout or technical knockout.
By contrast, Liddell did not react so well to the first time he was truly separated from consciousness. After getting KO’ed by Rampage in their 2007 bout, Liddell lost three of his next four fights.
On the other end of the spectrum, Josh Barnett suffered his first professional loss by vicious knockout when he got caught with a Pedro Rizzo bomb back in 2001. Barnett recovered by putting together a three-year winning streak in the UFC and Japan.
Rich Franklin was undefeated when he faced Lyoto Machida in a non-UFC bout back in 2003. Machida scored an impressive knockout victory, and Franklin responded like it was business as usual, resuming his run of defeating all comers until he ran into some guy named Anderson Silva nearly three years later.
I guess that is a long way of saying there is no real way to predict what will happen next with Machida. For what it is worth, I think that Machida will return to his winning ways, though not with the same aura of invincibility. He has a true samurai spirit. A loss is just part of the game, and he will study the reasons for the loss and work exhaustively to shore up those holes in his game.
KOS RETURNS TO TUF, EYES BOUT WITH GSP
Josh Koscheck holds a rather unique distinction. Nobody in the history of the promotion has won more fights inside the Octagon without challenging for a UFC title than Kos. His 13 wins in 17 attempts stand alone. In fact, nobody is relatively close.
Everyone with at least 10 wins has earned the right to fight for a title. Of course, the former collegiate wrestling champion’s 13th win finally earned him a shot at UFC gold, assuming that neither he nor reigning champion GSP get injured during the months between now and their proposed wintertime showdown.
It is fitting that Kos will first return to the platform that springboarded him into mainstream consciousness. Starting in June, he will begin several weeks of taping for the 12th season of The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC’s hit reality show. Kos, a veteran of season one of the show, will be bringing his UFC journey full circle before his first title challenge.
I’ve written these words multiple times, and I’m not going to change my opinion anytime soon: Kos has the necessary mix of dominant wrestling and elite athleticism to defeat GSP. I’m not yet predicting that he will achieve that tremendous accomplishment, which is far easier said than done. I’ll reserve that decision for the pre-fight breakdown a week or so before the fight.
It bears mentioning that Kos and GSP have tangled in the past. GSP scored a clear judges’ decision principally because he was able to win the wrestling and ground control portions of the fight because Kos was far too overeager in the standup realm. One has to assume that Kos won’t make the same mistake the second time around and will affirmatively train to take away what has been GSP’s biggest weapon since first winning the title—his ability to take down opponents and control them on the ground.
Whatever ultimately happens when Kos gets his first shot at championship glory, the one thing fans can count on is an extremely entertaining pre-fight build up because Kos has firmly embraced the role of heel in his fights. I expect him to take full advantage of every opportunity to get under GSP’s skin during the taping, which should make for some interesting moments.
FIGHT FANS SHOULD APPLAUD WHITE’S CONVICTION
The President of the Ultimate Fighting Championship is a polarizing figure, no doubt about it.
There is no middle ground when it comes to fans’ opinion of Dana White, and for every person who is taken aback by White’s brash personality or fiery Twitter responses, there is one who loves his passion and accessibility. And with him, there is no hidden agenda. One always knows where he or she stands. And if you have any doubt, all you have to do is ask, because White will answer in unfiltered fashion, whether or not you want to hear it.
Love or loathe him, everyone has to respect Dana White. Why? Because he has earned it, and his decision to permanently banish Paul Daley from the UFC for his unsportsmanlike behavior shows backbone and conviction well beyond what one typically sees from the boss of a major sporting organization.
Daley’s decision to sucker punch an unsuspecting Kos well after the fight had ended probably increased his marketability as a bad boy in the sport, creating a commodity that would likely garner more fan interest than the man who arrived at the Bell Centre to compete in a welterweight title eliminator. That is just the way that our society works—for good or for bad. White will not cheapen the sport by trying to make money off Daley’s deplorable judgment. For that, I must tip my hat, and I think it sends a terrific message to the rest of the MMA world, which will hopefully prevent anything like that from ever happening again.
As for Daley, he is lucky that the shot did not cause any real damage. If it had, losing his UFC contract would likely be the least of his worries. Once a fight ends, the rules of fistic engagement no longer apply and the same laws that apply to you and me take over. In 2001, James Butler found that out the hard way. The professional boxer was arrested and charged with aggravated assault for hammering Richard Grant with a right hand moments after it was announced that he had lost a 10-round decision. Butler served time on Riker’s Island for the punch.
Mixed martial artists should keep that at the forefront of their mind before attempting to follow in Daley’s foolish footsteps.
SLICE CONTINUES HIS GROWING PAINS
Nobody denies the fact that Kimbo Slice is a fighter deep down in his DNA. The fact remains, though, that the 36-year-old heavyweight has not yet made the transition from brawler to mixed martial artist. He remains a work in progress.
By all accounts, he has been working extremely hard to do just that under the expert tutelage of Ricardo Liborio and the rest of the crew at the American Top Team. Slice reportedly soaks up volumes and volumes of information during his training each week in an attempt to improve his game. Nevertheless, the transition is not an easy one, as evident by his performance against former NFL football player Matt Mitrione.
Slice appeared tentative against his bigger foe. That was in stark contrast to the first few fights of his career, when the two-fisted wrecking machine moved forward at all costs while continuously throwing bombs designed to bring a fight to an abrupt conclusion. It was the same sort of tentativeness that he showed in his Octagon debut against Houston Alexander.
Trust me, Slice hasn’t lost his gladiator spirit. He hasn’t lost his fighting backbone. And he hasn’t lost his work ethic. The problem, in my opinion, is that he is thinking too much in the cage, rather than just competing.
Mitrione should have been tailor made for Slice to engage in a timeless slugfest. The southpaw comes forward throwing punches and has no interest whatsoever in takedowns. He is all about throwing hands and slamming kicks.
The amateur version of Slice would have charged out with his head ducked in a peek-a-boo stance and fired away with hooks until one of them fell down. The more highly trained version looked like he was preoccupied with defending a takedown that never came. When in the clinch, Slice looked a bit lost, throwing single punches, rather than letting his hands go with reckless abandon. Maybe getting taken down and dominated on the ground by Roy Nelson in TUF competition took away some of his confidence. Maybe training extensively with top heavyweights highlights the current holes in his game.
Whatever the case, Slice needs to find his confidence and rely on what makes him so dangerous—coming forward throwing big punches in combination. He has a chance to beat anyone who dares stand and trade with him if he fights with that style.
As most already know, UFC President Dana White announced at the UFC 113 post-fight press conference that Slice will be released from his UFC contract. Honestly, I think that is the best move for the former Internet sensation. Rather than fighting a couple of times this year in the world’s greatest MMA promotion, Slice will be better served taking a half dozen fights in the second half of the year in smaller shows to hone his craft, build his confidence and return with a vengeance to see if he can, indeed, make a run in either the UFC heavyweight, or, more likely, light heavyweight, division.